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Contemplating My Navel and Lawyering

by Laurie Israel, Esq.

At my age, I find my thoughts wandering backwards in time, with long-lost memories bubbling up occasionally.  I ponder these memories and cherish them.  I parse them for meaning, like dreams in the night remembered suddenly the next day, with a jolt of recognition into their inner meaning.

Recently at work, I recalled a joke that was going around my parent’s generation in the 1960’s when I was about 13 years old (and my parents in their 40’s).  It was that joke about “the hexagonal nut in the navel”.  You may know the one:

A boy was born with a hexagonal nut (or golden screw) in his navel.  He couldn’t remove it no matter how hard he tried.  It caused him much embarassment as he grew up.  Finally, when he was a young man, he traveled to Tibet to seek a guru who might help him.  He met the guru, who turned the hexagonal nut in the young man’s navel for many hours.  Finally, the screw came off.  Very excited, the young man stood up… and his butt fell off!

So why did this joke come up for me as I was thinking about my legal work?  What possible relevance does this have to the practice of law and mediation?

Well, the joke is about the danger of “monkeying” with things.  We may not know the reason for something, but if we “monkey” with it, we can destroy something very essential and precious.  This has direct application to the “boilerplate” language in legal documents.  Boilerplate is rather boring language that appears in common contracts, such as contracts for sale of real estate, leases, separation agreements, and employment contracts.  As a new lawyer, I quickly learned not to mess with the boilerplate.  It is there for a reason.  If you remove any part of it, there might be severe repercussions later on for your client.  Figuratively speaking, your client’s butt may fall off.

The “teaching” of the joke applies to Prenuptial Agreements too.  Prenuptial Agreements have now become fashionable among young people.  But when a couple enters into a Prenuptial Agreement, they are monkeying around with the very basis (the “boilerplate”, if you will) of their marriage.  They may change what they think is a very small thing by means of their agreement, but in doing so may detrimentally affect the economic ties that may help them feel closely connected for life.  Figuratively speaking, they have removed the hexagonal nut binding them together.  And when they stand up — well — you know the rest of the joke.

In law, and perhaps in life, the moral of the story is that as humans, we may contemplate our navels as much as we like.  But we learn through experience that some things should just be left alone.  Change is important, but can also be dangerous.  Being aware of when we should act, and when we should not act, is part of what maturity is all about.

© 2008 Laurie Israel.  All rights reserved.

Laurie Israel

Laurie Israel

Laurie Israel is a founder of Israel, Van Kooy & Days, LLC, a law firm located in Brookline, Massachusetts. She combines a family law practice with estate planning, tax, mediation and collaborative law. Laurie is a former board member of the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation and the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council. Her writings include articles on divorce, mediation, marital mediation, and prenuptial agreements. You can find her articles on, Huffington Post, and She is the author of the forthcoming book The Generous Prenup: How to Support Your Marriage and Avoid the Pitfalls.
Laurie Israel

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